2/23/20. Added Video Shootout and updates to the 400 series as a whole.
Hey there friend, and Welcome aboard!!
Small Disclaimer before we get into things: HiFiMan has been having ongoing quality control issues for quite some time now, mostly with the cable connection. My video shootout goes into much depth about my overall impressions of the big 4, including Drop’s HE-4XX, the original 400i, the 400S and the Sundara. It should also be noted that Audio Advice (a store I frequent to demo these models) has stopped carrying HiFiMan products due to said issues. Your mileage may vary. More in the video below!
Man I really love these headphones. I got a chance to demo them at a home theater store. My local Audio Advice lends out headphones for audition, and at first I didn’t have a strong reaction either way. As I continued listening with them it’s like a light bulb went off and I couldn’t believe how phenomenal they sounded even out of my smartphone (I use Android). I was using both Spotify and Deezer as my sources, as well as the Bryston BHA-1 and more recently a NAIM DAC V-1. I believe most of Spotify’s songs are 192 kbps, but if you’re a premium member you get the coveted 320kbps. The more you can listen with high quality source files the better your listening experience will be. That said, the 400S handles just about anything well!
As much as I like them, they do have a bit of an obnoxious character at times, and are definitely in your face and more intense than a 400i. Learn more: HIFIMAN HE400i Review!!
400i vs. 400S/HD600 + 650
The 400i is more laid back, and has a glossier, smoother overall sound. It’s warmer and more lush, while the 400S is cooler and has a brighter response. I would say that the relationship between the 400S and 400i is similar to that of the Sennheiser HD600 vs. 650. The 600 is more sterile and clinical, while the 650 is warmer. Learn more: HIFIMAN HE400S vs. 400i!
I would recommend the HD600 over the 400S when it’s all said and done. I believe the 600’s to be analytical without sounding harsh or out of line. The treble is going to be somewhat darker, but this will ensure much less fatigue over time. The 400S will wear you out quicker for sure.
Comfortable overall, but there is a caveat. More on that in Stu’s notepad.
The bass is tight and very detailed. It’s there when it needs to be or when the song calls for it.
Very detail oriented. I was starting to hear new things in songs I’ve heard a thousand times. The 400S is a very subtle type of headphone in that it exposes things that you normally would never hear or pay attention to.
Great instrument separation. They have this knack for spreading things out very evenly. More on that in Stu’s notepad.
Great mid-range. Vocals and instruments really come alive. They have this fantastic crispness about them that really makes you want to smile and tell someone.
The L-shaped plug is a pain with the Otter Box. Mine frequently popped loose if I just set the phone down on my lap face up.
The braided cable is kind of awkward and doesn’t move freely about like I would prefer. It also seems prone to breaking down, which is a common complaint among-st reviewers.
Here I compiled all of my impressions of the big 4 since 2017!
Click to see the 400S!
An amp isn’t required, but will greatly aid you in the studio when you’re sitting at your desk. I absolutely love these straight out of my phone though. They aren’t too loud or too quiet; it’s a nice happy medium.
Opportunity H2 DAC and Amp.
HIFIMAN Super Mini Hi Res Portable Music Player.
Samsung Galaxy S6 Audio port sounds good.
Sounds good out of a Macbook Pro.
Bottlehead Crack. They really shine with this one.
Schiit Asgard 2
OriGen+ DAC/AMP USB combo
JDS Labs Objective2+ODAC
FiiO E17K Alpen 2
FiiO Mont Blanc
Audioquest Dragonfly DAC (Black). Seems to be a popular combo.
Wow, so out of those? My top recommendations would be the Audioquest DragonFly Red for something super portable, and the JDS Labs Objective 2 or ATOM for something desktop worthy. I personally use the Schiit Magni/Modi combo as well as an Oppo HA-2 which I also love.
Who these headphones benefit?
Hip-Hop. No they’re not a bass heads headphone, but listening to some of my favorite artists on Soundcloud I started to hear things that I hadn’t before. It was like I was aware of the artist and how they intended for the mix to come out.
With the Focus Pads (replacement ear pads), more bass driven music comes to life. The problem with this is that they cost an additional $40 when they should be included for no extra cost, or used as the original ear pads! It really defeats the entire purpose. They also add bass at the expense of the luscious 3D sound signature. I do think the pads here are a weak point, but I would rather get an exact replacement of the originals then sacrifice the great Soundstage for more bass. I just don’t feel like I personally need more, but some people did complain about it. What is Soundstage?
Thoughts from Stu’s Notepad
The bass on this headphone is very lean, dare I say light, but man it’s detailed. If the song was mixed with more bass, you’ll know. If it wasn’t, you’ll know. What I love about it is that it feels integrated within the mix. It’s not like, “Hey man here I am. Pay attention to me.” It’s more like that leader who leads by example rather than always spouting his mouth off. It’s also never in your face or too loud, even if the song calls for it. It sits beautifully in it’s place.
The comfort is pretty decent overall, but there are a couple of issues: One is the ear-pads. They tend to deflate over time, leading to an awkward fit. Whereas a headphone like the HD600’s have a rather tight clamp, the 400S loses it’s ability to stay on your head properly because of the ear-cup issue. After about a couple of hours, the cups slid down and started to hurt the tops of my ears. I frequently had to push up to remedy the problem. The good news is that you can replace the ear-cups, which you will most definitely need to do over time.
As alluded to earlier, this is a very detailed sound. Little things really start to come out in the song, and you get a clear understanding of how the artist intended for the mix to come out. I can’t overstate this enough: This is a very subtle type of headphone. You’re going to love sitting back with these and marveling at the finer points. You may have heard Pink Floyd’s Have a Cigar a thousand times. I know I have. But I still caught stuff that I had never heard before. Specifically, there’s a couple of sounds at around the :52 mark that became prominent when they had never made themselves known in the past. There’s also a guitar that trails off at :48 that I never noticed too. These seemingly small things complete the song and make it sound whole, and the way the 400S presents it is fresh and exciting.
The Soundstage is pretty remarkable. Everything seems to be meticulously placed in a specific area, so as to bring the song together as a cohesive unit rather than just frequencies existing in space. So many times we hear a song and stuff starts to run together. The bass may be overbearing and interfere with the clarity of the mids. Or the treble may be too bright and distract us from hearing the bass. The 400S handles the spectrum with ease, and truly reveals what the instrument is supposed to sound like. What is Timbre?
I would say the build quality is decent. While I didn’t feel like they were flimsy and absolutely cheap, I also didn’t marvel at their weight or sturdiness. They’re the kind of headphones that may break down over time with some abuse.
On Pink Floyd’s Money, I heard this weird guitar in the background that I had never noticed before. It became astonishingly clear to the point of me feeling a bit uneasy. Lol. Again, the 400S has this uncanny ability to spread out sounds like butter on toast. It’s really refreshing, so wash it down with some Apple Juice baby!
A phenomenal sounding headphone with some potential build issues and a weird wonky cable. Definitely will want to go aftermarket here. Gets a tad uncomfortable overtime, and the ear-pads tend to want to deflate even though they seem to be made of velour.
Even despite their issues, I would still probably buy these and be completely fine with it. They’re not going to be your on the go headphone by any means, nor even your primary one. But good golly they sound amazing. I’m not even exaggerating here.
As for your primary headphone? Gotta go with the HD600. It’s the quintessential studio headphone, and outclasses nearly everything even being over 20 years old. Interested in an in depth and informative discussion?
Stu is determined to help you make sound decisions, and strives to deliver the best and most in depth content on the internet! In his spare time, he likes to fish, paint, play guitar, pray, rap, make beats, take photos, record videos, graphic design, and more. His sense of humour, coupled with a knack for excellence and strict attention to detail are what allow him to stand out in an crowded industry.